I will never be surprised by the amount of discrimination and racist language used in state policy. From Canada’s Bill C-51 to America’s Patriot Act, proposed bills and enforced legislation say a lot about current atmospheres of tension. Most recently, a proposal has been made in Belgium to ask newly admitted immigrants to sign an agreement of support of so-called “European values.” The implication here is not only that there is even such a thing as “European values,” but also that they are superior and that immigrants inherently do not have them.
Meant to be a response to the attacks on the airport and metro station last month that killed thirty-five people, the potential requirement directs the despair and anger of the public that arose out of these senseless attacks from the actual perpetrators of the tragedy on to new immigrants. The definition of European values would be along the lines of promoting gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and fighting against terrorism. However, these values are not new to Muslims, immigrants, or Muslim immigrants. History proves that these values have been supported for centuries. Immigrants have always been part of communities within countries, but they have always been the first group to target once the state loses its stability. Scapegoating what is considered the other, or the foreign, is a tale as old as history itself.
For Belgium to ascribe a sense of civility to its identity is surely reminiscent of its colonization of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the same old story, but with a modern twist. Now, rather than sending out citizens of Belgium to force people to ascribe to their ideas of what true civility is, Belgium would like to ask that anyone who comes into the country agree beforehand. Belgian officials get the satisfaction of their self-proposed superiority without ever having to leave the confines of their own borders.
If I have gained any understanding as to what a European value is, it is one of deeply rooted racism and inequality. However, this is not strictly European any more than values of gender equality are. The problem lies in ascribing positive notions of progress as Western ideals, while comparatively demonizing other countries for their existent injustices. Every culture, community and country has veins of oppression, which explains why they are known as systems of oppression. Systems work together and are far-reaching. To suggest that gender equality is a specifically European ideal is troubling considering that within Belgium itself, the fight for gender equality is still continuing. Women only make up thirty-five percent of the country’s parliament. There is still a pay gap between men and women in the workforce at a calculated 8.6 percent. Belgium has not accomplished gender equality as the struggle still continues for women within the country.
Belgium has the highest percentage of citizens recruited by ISIS than any other Western nation. Some blame this fact on Muslim migrants’ “lack of integration” to Belgian communities. This is the same mindset that supports the proposal of European values. Both put the expectation on the immigrants, rather than question the society that enforces the expectations in the first place. Is it a culture of fining Muslim women for wearing face veils and Belgian politicians deeming Muslim presence as threatening, or is it the Muslims who refuse to integrate? How can anyone integrate into a world so unwelcoming? The push for integration is code for an assimilating civilizing mission.
Another problem that could arise is when some act is even perceived to be contrary to “European values,” then the precariousness of an immigrant’s status would be significantly heightened. It is not necessarily a matter of what is being said or what is being done, but it is a matter of the skin colour of the person carrying the action out. As we learn that freedom of speech is only for the privileged, immigrants are intensely scrutinized, threatened, and vilified for it.
Immigrant women and families under this proposed measure would be forced to sign a document that would make human rights synonymous with European society. Simultaneously, it would assume inequality as a value of the country from which the immigrants moved. Immigrant female bodies are used as political tools for the Belgian state. The state is meant to speak for their best interest, protecting them from their supposedly cultural oppressions. This measure aims to prevent future terrorist attacks from happening, but all it does is remind the world that only certain groups of people are welcome unconditionally. The rest of us have to read the fine print.